Friday, December 30, 2011

Gardening Resolutions 2012

I did a so-so job on my gardening resolutions in 2011...what have I resolved to do in the garden in 2012?

1. Give it time and space.

I have been gardening at this house for 6 years, and in that time I've planted voraciously: natives, non-natives, garden classics, rare specimens, passalongs, impulse purchases, and everything in between. I've used an increasing amount of forethought as I have come to better understand the conditions.

But it's time to let the garden breathe. Let all those plants adjust, and then evaluate. Constantly cramming more in will not make this the garden I want it to be. Sure, lots of spaces need to be filled, but first I must step back and see what is thriving, what is struggling, and where something different should be added.

I know I want a couple more hostas and heucheras in my back shade border, and I want to add wild gingers (Asarum canadense) to form a groundcover in the misfit border. But aside from those, I have no plans about new ornamentals. (The veggie garden will of course get new seedlings, and is exempt from this resolution.) I need to work with what I have, which brings me to my next resolution...

2. Divide and conquer.

Sedges, zizias, toad lilies, and more are out of control! All that plunking of plants has resulted in some great successes that are now overgrown. I tried this fall to divide the sedges and zizias in the rain garden, but they were so bushy that I couldn't find the crowns of individual plants. Rather than destroy half the garden, I decided to wait until spring, when new growth gives away their exact locations.

Dividing what is already thriving will leave me with free plants (yeah!), and plants that have proven they can survive in my conditions. Now, if I moved a water-loving zizia to a dry, shady spot, it would struggle. But if I can squeeze divisions in blank spots similar to their original microclimate, that could make for a lush, happy garden that displays some unification in plants and style. What a thought! And speaking of style, resolution 3 is...

3. Plant decent containers.

Two years ago I made the effort to grow interesting containers, but in 2011 I reverted to my lazy ways. I plopped some coleus seedlings in pots with tender Habranthus bulbs, which failed miserably in the low light.

Not again! It's not that difficult to follow the thriller, filler, spiller recipe. I will likely grow coleus again for the filler, and I'm searching for sweet potato vine seeds to grow my own spillers. Just a little more effort in the annual section of a local garden center and I too will have beautiful containers again!

What about you? Are you making any resolutions, gardening or otherwise? Here's wishing you a very happy, healthy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Resolutions Redux

I can't believe I'm saying this, but a new year is just about to arrive! Having been caught up in Christmas hoopla, I haven't had much time to think about gardening lately (other than noticing the increasing stream of seed catalogs arriving in my mailbox and making a mental note to peruse them more closely in the near future).

But before the year ends, I want to look back on my gardening resolutions for 2011. How did I do? Let's see...

(Look closely and you'll see a little fence holding back these goldenrods.)

1. Define the borders.

Eh, I sort of accomplished this one. I finally added wire fencing to demarcate my front border. Despite its dainty size, I think the fence helps to more clearly separate the garden from the lawn. And I like the curvy pattern too.

Unfortunately I did nothing to define the border on the south side of my back yard. It's as rag-tag as ever; in fact it may be worse because a bunch of the plants here really took off (yellow coneflower, I'm looking at you!). I'm of course happy the plants are doing so well--prairie/savannah natives are flourishing happily in this part sun border. But in 2012, really, seriously, I've got to get some large rocks and properly separate this part of the garden from the ever-creeping lawn grass.

2. Fix this other %@!$# border.

As I've stated many times, the north border in the back yard has confounded me for years now. Terrible soil, low sunlight, and distance from the hose create the perfect storm of garden mediocrity in this area. So I resolved to do something about it! I planted lots of lovely tulips (Rembrandt's Favorite, Negrita, and Dordogne). Then I got tired of having to labor through this hellish mix of clay and lava rocks, so in the fall I planted Darwin tulips (Ad Rem and Jaap Groot) so they will (hopefully) return for multiple years.

I also planted some savannah natives which will (hopefully) be able to withstand the challenging conditions. Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia), brown-eyed susans (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), and Callirhoe bushii were added in the hope that they can light up the place with a mix of blue, yellow, and bright pink. The harebells bloomed delicate bobbing flowers with ferny foliage...I have high hopes they can repeat this in their sophomore year. Even the Rudbeckias bloomed a little...

...and I moved some pale purple coneflowers (Echinacea pallida) here from a too-shady spot where they had languished. But transplanting didn't go well. Maybe I'll see them again, maybe not.

Either way, this was another half-accomplished resolution, but more on that later...

3. Clean up the composting operation.

Done! In late summer my extremely helpful husband turned the wooden skid from my Troy Bilt snow blower into a large compost bin. It's open at the top but wide enough to essentially have two piles; one to add to while the first one decomposes. Wire surrounds the framing to let in air and moisture but keep the leaves and kitchen scraps from falling out. It's even got a little door to scoop out the finished compost. Despite my lack of photographic evidence, I promise you it's great!

So that's kind of 1 1/2-for-3...not great but not terrible. It mirrors my .500 record last year. But what about resolutions for 2012? More coming soon...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Do you fake it?

(Christmas tree with aloe houseplant nearby)

This time of year, I always feel a little conflicted about Christmas trees, particularly our Christmas tree.

As a gardener and all-around plant nerd, I feel rather guilty about cutting down a living tree. And we don't just buy one that was already cut down and is being sold by the Boy Scouts or some other charitable organization. We actually go out and cut down a tree (albeit from a Christmas tree farm, not some unspoiled forest). Even though it's from a tree farm, I always think "this tree might have made it one more year, adding more oxygen into the atmosphere and providing a sheltered spot for birds to rest on its branches."

At the same time, as a gardener and all-around plant nerd, I love having a real Christmas tree. The smell of pine is intoxicating as it fills the house, and I get to lovingly water my temporary houseplant every day. A plastic tree just isn't the same, and a petroleum-based fake tree kind of epitomizes all that is wrong with the over-commercialization and insincerity of 21st-century Christmas.

As someone who cares about the environment, how can I cut down a perfectly lovely, living tree that was sequestering carbon and providing oxygen? Conversely, as someone who cares about the environment, how can I support buying and owning yet one more plastic thing that will eventually end up in a disgusting landfill?

So do you fake it with a Christmas tree, or do you get the real thing? Am I reading too much into Christmas tree options? Either way, it certainly looks nice...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's Official

The 2012 gardening season has begun, and 2011 hasn't even ended! But I received my first seed catalog today, and with that I'll start scheming and dreaming of what to grow next year.

Already I'm planning on ordering more tomato plants from Seed Savers Exchange and skipping the bell peppers, which have barely produced multiple peppers, much less a decent crop. I'm hoping for a rebound in the carrot crop, and I'll still devote a ridiculous amount of precious real estate to broccoli, the home grown version of which is just incomparable.

Seed catalogs lead to reflections on the past growing season and hope for the next. What could be more perfect at this time of year?!

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